Ottawa

Baby 'entertainers' deliver dose of cuteness to seniors' homes

Their mission? To deliver a dose of cuteness to seniors all over the city. Here's the story behind the fast-growing Facebook group Babies Who Volunteer.

'It's for the seniors, but everybody benefits,' says Ottawa woman who started Babies Who Volunteer group

Lillian MacIsaac, 83, reads a children's book to Amelia Turner. (Hallie Cotnam/CBC)

It began with a short visit to a long-term care home when Jessica Turner was on maternity leave with her then six-month-old daughter.

Little Amelia was a big hit.

The visit sparked an idea that grew into a Facebook group called Babies Who Volunteer.

It's been running for eight months, and Turner said about 1,000 parents and their children have donated their time in that period, visiting seniors at dozens of homes and respite centres across Ottawa.

Hallie Cotnam of CBC Radio's Ottawa Morning recently dropped by a seniors' home to hear the whole story.

Jessica Turner and her now 18-month-old daughter, Amelia. (Hallie Cotnam/CBC)

"My first visit was with ... a friend of mine's mother who was just put into long-term care, and she was quite upset because [she] and her husband have been married for many years and it's just a big change for her," Turner said.

"So we ... started visiting her regularly, weekly, and it just kind of grew from there. The seniors all loved her, my daughter, and I had to share her with everybody on the floor.

"They would just gravitate to her. They would want to touch her, wanted to hold her. Some seniors that hadn't spoken for years started speaking, started singing to her."

'This was something more'

One elderly woman who hadn't spoken for four years began talking to Amelia, and the elderly woman's own daughter was astonished. At first, the woman with Alzheimer's was not quite lucid when Turner placed Amelia in her lap.

"And then all of a sudden, it was like she just snapped out of that and started smiling at the baby, and then she started ... making little noises and singing nursery songs. That was the moment where I knew this was something more than just a visit at a local long-term care home," Turner said.

A senior holds the hand of another baby volunteer. (Hallie Cotnam/CBC)

Lillian MacIsaac, 83, enjoys reading to Amelia.

"I love the babies," MacIsaac said. "It wakes me up. I really like kids. I really, really like kids.

"It just makes me feel so good. I was so worried to miss that this morning. I wanted to make sure I was up in time for it."

Some obstacles

But babies can carry lots of germs, and seniors are vulnerable to illness. Other moms told Turner they'd tried to do something similar, but were rejected by nursing homes due to health concerns.

"I have to be honest that I had to sell it to the homes, and I had to find a loophole with the whole volunteer thing. Instead of being volunteers, we're entertainers. We go in as a group, and we're always with the staff. So once we got around that, it just blew up," Turner said.

MacIsaac and Amelia read a Caillou book. (Hallie Cotnam/CBC)

In December, Turner received a $1,000 grant from the Awesome Ottawa Foundation. Her plan is to put it toward insurance costs and the non-profit organization's 2019 operating budget.

"It's a great feeling. When you go in there and you see the smile that these seniors have when they see your baby, it's like you go in there trying to make them happy, but you really leave making yourself and your baby happy," she said.

"Yes, it's for the seniors, but everybody benefits. Postpartum depression is huge in new moms.... This is a great way to overcome that."

CBC Radio's Ottawa Morning

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